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Flooding, power outages expected in Baltimore; Isaias could bring 6 inches of rain or more

Mayor Jack Young on Baltimore's preparation for Tropical storm Isaias as it moves up the East Coast of the United States.

The power went out at Lorraine Woods’ house during a recent heavy storm, rendering her electric sump pump useless to fend off the water pouring into her Northwest Baltimore basement.

With Tropical Storm Isaias (pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs) looming, the 72-year-old retired Baltimore teacher waited in line in Fells Point on Monday to fill up 10 free sandbags to limit flooding. Woods has since replaced her electric sump pump with a water-powered one, but the projected rainfall of 6 inches or more had her worried.

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“If this storm is going to be what they say it is, it’s not going to pump fast enough,” she said. “Better to be prepared.”

The tropical storm is expected to flood low-lying areas, down trees and cause power outages across the region when it reaches Maryland on its way up the East Coast on Monday night. About 3 inches to 6 inches of rain is expected to fall in the Interstate 95 corridor through Tuesday afternoon.

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Depending on the tropical storm’s path and intensity, Tuesday could challenge an 87-year-old record for the most rain on one day in Baltimore: 7.62 inches.

Isaias could pour up to 8 inches of water into some areas of the Baltimore region, especially if the storm tracks west, said Austin Mansfield, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“We’re hoping not to get that amount,” Mansfield said. “It’s going to depend on the track once it makes landfall.”

The heaviest rain should fall during the day Tuesday, Mansfield said.

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“We still won’t be completely in the clear until later in the day Wednesday,” Mansfield added.

A tropical storm warning has been issued across the Baltimore region, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, according to the National Weather Service.

Gov. Larry Hogan said a “government-wide response” has been initiated to help prepare for the storm. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency has activated an “enhanced” level to allow for increased coordination between agencies and the weather service, and the Maryland State Police are on standby to respond, if necessary.

Additionally, all coronavirus testing conducted by the Maryland Department of Health will be suspended Tuesday.

“Our state is taking every precaution to prepare for the effects of Tropical Storm Isaias — which could include heavy rain, damaging winds, and flash flooding — and I urge all Marylanders to do the same,” Hogan said Monday night. “Stay tuned to your local news stations for the latest updates, listen to state and local authorities, and most importantly, plan and prepare.”

The Baltimore City Department of Public Works suspended trash pickup for Tuesday, opting for a Saturday collection, City Council President Brandon Scott said in a tweet Monday.

Baltimore residents, particularly those living in frequently flooded areas, were encouraged to move their cars and take other precautions in preparation for the arrival of the storm, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Monday.

City officials opened the Caroline Street Garage and the Fleet and Eden Street Garage free of charge to residents beginning at noon Monday. Residents were asked to move their cars by 7 a.m. Wednesday to avoid being charged.

Parking restrictions were in effect at 6 p.m. Monday in Fells Point in preparation for the storm. City officials said vehicles would be towed if necessary. Free sandbags were distributed at Thames Street and Broadway.

The U.S. Coast Guard ordered the Port of Baltimore closed to inbound ship traffic greater than 500 gross tons and asked people to stay off the area’s beaches and boaters to stay off the water in anticipation of the storm.

“The Coast Guard and its partners stand ready to conduct search and rescue efforts and respond to those in need,” the agency said in a release.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said he was partially activating the county’s emergency operations center Tuesday morning because of the storm.

“I ask all Anne Arundel County residents to take this storm seriously,” Pittman said in a release. “Please be safe, and prepare now for what could be a dangerous day.”

Like Baltimore, Anne Arundel has also postponed its trash pickup from Tuesday to Wednesday and is closing all summer child care and camp programs held in the senior centers, aquatic centers and South County Recreation Center on Tuesday.

Howard County announced that there will be no trash, recycling, food scrap and/or yard trim curbside collection Tuesday, and that its slide schedule will be in effect for the remainder of this week.

The Baltimore County Public Library will not offer curbside service Tuesday. And the Maryland Food Bank will be unable to deliver youth summer lunch meals to the Arbutus, North Point and Woodlawn branches.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore will be closed.

Patricia House brought her own shovel to fill sandbags at the giveaway in Fells Point on Monday, not realizing the city had several available for people to use. She said rainwater from her backyard in Forest Park didn’t use to flood into her home the way it does now. “It’s gotten worse the past six years or so,” the teacher said.

Wearing a mask like the others waiting in line to pick up sand, she noted that she knows people who have died and others who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus. She sounded exasperated by the prospect of a tropical storm arriving amid a pandemic.

“Now this,” House said. “What else?”

In advance of the storm, officials asked residents across the city to help clear storm drains near their houses to help with the drainage of rainwater.

“Regardless of whether storm drains are completely clear or not, there is going to be a capacity issue with draining that much rain,” said Matt Garbark, acting director of the Department of Public Works.

Drains clogged with trash and other debris are one of Archie Clark’s top concerns in any storm.

“They don’t clean them that often,” the 70-year-old said. “The water runs everywhere.”

Clark’s house is one of about six on his block of West Fayette Street where water inevitably seeps into the basement. Hurricane Isabel was the worst storm he remembered in his 25 years of living in the West Baltimore house.

“I had to throw away a whole lot of furniture,” he said.

In Beechfield, another of Baltimore’s low-lying, flood-prone neighborhoods, rescue crews had to use boats to rescue more than 20 people stranded on car rooftops and a Maryland Transit Administration bus in 7 feet of water after the 2018 storm that ravaged Ellicott City for the second time in two years.

After that storm, Creola Gadson, who lives on South Rock Glen Road nearby, found her dryer floating in the floodwater in her basement, she said. The St. Agnes Hospital document-imaging specialist has been working reduced hours due to the pandemic, and she’s worried about the financial toll the storm could take.

“I can’t afford to go through that again,” Gadson said.

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City officials were preparing for stormwater to inundate parts of Baltimore’s sanitary sewer system, which can potentially cause sewage backups in homes.

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Garbark cautioned residents to call 311 if they experience a sewage backup.

“Do not try to clean the sewage. Get a professional to do that,” he said. “It is dangerous. It is unhealthy.”

Director of Transportation Steve Sharkey said his crews would be on standby during the storm to respond to flooding and traffic signal outages. Traffic signal outages should be reported to 311, he said, as should trees blocking roadways.

Power outages should be reported to BGE at 877-778-2222.

William Sullivan, a 71-year-old retired recreation center director who lives in Waverly, recalled the flooding just last week that submerged part of Hillen Road near Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.

The doorways in his house are just one step off the ground, and the well windows in the front of the house are easily penetrated by rising floodwater, too, he said.

“If it rises, it comes into my house,” Sullivan said. “I’m trying to prepare for any unusual activity.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

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